Tag Archives: onions

guy’s newsletter: bean battles, bad onions & hungry crows

As the shortest day approaches, our minds turn to the next season; every box for every week to May 2016 has been planned, crops allocated and most plants and seeds ordered. A dry spell last week allowed us to spread muck, plough and sow the over-wintered broad beans, both in France and Devon. We have given up with bangers and scarecrows and now cover the whole field with a tough net to keep off the smart and hungry crows until the bean plants are established.

Meanwhile temperatures have finally dropped, which, combined with low sunlight levels, will slow the growth of our precocious leeks, kales and cabbages which had threatened to get away from us. Typically nothing grows very much for the next six weeks so, by the end of January, we should be back on top and will probably find ourselves short of greens by February.

After years of struggling with fungal disease in damp, drizzly Devon, most of our onions are now grown on well drained land at our farm on the edge of the Fens; with lower humidity and half the rainfall, the odds are more in our favour. This year we have been feeling smug with a fantastic crop of dry, firm, good-sized onions to see us through most of the winter. They were ‘topped’ (ie. had their foliage mowed off) and then lifted in August, before being finished with hot air in the barn. Having got them dry, with good skins and a well sealed neck, the plan is then to blow cold night air through the clamp to prolong dormancy and slow any rots; a dry 1°C is the ideal for storing an onion. However, with night time temperatures of 13-14°C in October we never managed to get them cold enough; their clocks kept ticking and they think it is spring already with internal sprouting in some, and rots in others. We are grading out any that are obviously bad but this is a rather longwinded plea for tolerance; we reckon they are OK (just) but if you disagree let us know and we’ll replace or refund. We have already decided that next year we must spend the cash and the carbon and cold store any destined for use after the New Year; it’s that or import. Few things smell worse than a rotten onion, so we’re going for the lesser of two evils.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: onions, yorkshiremen & a good year

I spend most of my time in Devon on the farm where I grew up, which has become Riverford HQ. My newsletters are inspired by daily encounters here and, as a result, tend to be Devon-centric. This is perhaps annoying for those of you in the east and north, so I thought I would mend my ways.

At Sacrewell farm (near Peterborough, serving those of you in the Midlands and the east) Nigel and his team are having the best year since we started packing boxes here in 2006. Conditions have been ideal, allowing well-planned planting and weeding. Timeliness is everything; we have lots of clever tractor mounted hoes to weed between crop rows and even between the plants but, for best effect, they need to be used at just the right time. This is generally in dry conditions within a week of the weeds emerging. If we get delayed by rain the result can be hours of expensive tedium on hands and knees, or even a lost crop.

Onions are one of the hardest crops to grow organically due to their susceptibility to weeds and fungal disease; as I write Nigel is harvesting our best crop ever, which we have managed to grow with almost no manual weeding. We will use some straight off the field, but most will go into the barn to be dried. Much as we try to grow things as locally as possible, some of the 30 acres of onions grown here will be used in damper Devon where our onions too often get buried in weeds and never keep as well.

Further north at Riverford on Home Farm in Yorkshire, Peter Richardson and his family are also having a good year. It started with him deservedly being named Green Farmer of the Year thanks to his use of solar panels, an anaerobic digester and heat exchangers that have massively reduced energy consumption on the farm and in the box packhouse. Peter grows a huge range of crops, mostly for box customers in the east and north, though he is so good at growing parsnips that some of them make their way to Devon at the end of the winter. Peter works with his son Jake in the fields, while his daughter Victoria is Production Manager in the packing barn and wife Jo-ann makes the staff lunches and helps out with the crops; as with much here at Riverford, it’s a real family affair.

Guy Watson

Nannas know their onions

My name’s Kirsty and I’ve been asked by Riverford to swap apron for laptop and write a cooking blog about the weekly recipes I put together for your veg box and on our website.

I was prompted this week to think about family hand-me-down recipes that use up the last onion in the box. One of our customers, Anne-Marie Haigh, kindly sent me one such recipe – her version of Guernsey Bean Jar, which her mother and grandmother have made before her. There’s no better recommendation than that. Using belly pork, in our winter warmer meatbox this week, it’s adaptable for veggies too.

Anne-Marie’s email reminded me of a couple of recipes that my Nanna and Granny used to make. Braised beef and onions was a classic Nanna dish, often accompanied by homemade wine – elderberry for a special occasion, pea pod for a headache the next morning! Try it with kailkenny (or colcannon, depending where you come from). It links Nanna with my Scottish Granny, who lived in Cullen, on the North East coast, home to a soup cum meal in a bowl, Cullen Skink.

Simple to make and a real cockle warmer, it uses that last onion again. When you’re going for the ‘last tent standing’ award at the gale-swept campsite on the headland at Cullen when I last stayed there, you’ll want an hourly dose of this, coupled with a good dram or two, for sustenance and sanity. I made my version, in which you poach haddock in milk from the start, as Granny did (some recipes just use water for poaching) and served it to my Scottish builder Kenny. It passed muster; I hope you try it too. If you’ve got a leftover leek, use that up instead of the onion.

I’d love to hear about your Nanna’s know-how in the kitchen – email us at recipes@www.riverford.co.uk/blog with suggestions for recipes and foodie topics or questions for this blog.

Happy cooking!


Caught in the act – bunching onions

Could it be the best job I have ever had?

Don’t let my boss know that. But when the sun is shining and the workers are out in the fields, I get out of the office and start shooting (I usually work in the office dealing with all things technical and creative on the computer). I must admit I am a bit of a fair weather photographer, mainly because that’s the time when I will get the best pictures. Early morning and before home time is when the light is at its best.

I arrive at the entrance to a field I have never been to before, where I was told I would find a small army picking spring onions or bunched onions (I haven’t quite worked out the difference yet) for the vegboxes. It’s actually a minute’s walk from Guy’s house… maybe he likes to look out of the window and see people working hard in the fields. I discover that just as I have arrived, everyone’s on a 20 minute break. Typical timing by me. I feel slightly bad, as this is really the first thing I am about to do for the day, and all these people have been working so hard and started so early that they need a break already.

It does however give me a bit of time to decide where to shoot from and to get some shots of people on their break – it is part of the working day after all. I try to work out what the stacks of boxes are at different points around the field, and why there are green leaves piled randomly along the rows. Crates are huddled together with more scattered alongside. It all clicks into place when the field workers return to their jobs. Some are pulling the onions, dead leafing while they go and putting them into crates. Some are sitting on crates bunching and elastic banding, and then chopping the tops off nice and neat with a flick of the wrist and a very sharp knife. Then back into the crates, piled at intervals, to be loaded onto the tractor and vanned

back to the farm and into the cold store to go into the boxes for the next day.
I ask how much they have to do, as the field is pretty big and progress looks painfully slow. “80 crates – we’ll be here all day.” comes the response. I am not wearing one, but I take my hat off to these guys and girls. They even have to carry on working when it rains. I am afraid I am yet to capture that shot.

Martin Ellis